Title: River Deep
Author: Priscilla Masters
Publisher: Allison and Busby, 2005
Paperback, 265 pages
Genre: Police Procedural, #1 Martha Gunn mystery
Source: Purchased from Amazon.
First Line: Nature is a free spirit.
The River Severn is in full flood, and sections of the ancient city of Shrewsbury-- home of the venerable fictional sleuth Brother Cadfael-- are cut off from the rest of the world. When the rising waters flood the basement of a riverside cottage causing a corpse to be discovered, Coroner Martha Gunn is among the first to be called to the scene.
When the post mortem proves that Gunn was correct in thinking the man's death was a homicide, the next hurdle is identifying him-- which proves much trickier than anyone anticipated.
Widow Martha Gunn often feels like an outsider when faced with the bond her twins, Sam and Sukey, share. As coroner, her hours can fluctuate, so she has a Swedish au pair to help her keep their home and routines running smoothly.
Coroners are not supposed to investigate a case, but this one is so baffling that Martha can't help but do some very surreptitious sleuthing. I liked watching Martha uncover information and then subtly work the police and the pathologist to look at the case from a different perspective in order for them to stumble over the clues, too.
Masters packs strength after strength into this book. From the atmospheric city of Shrewsbury battling a raging river, to a plot that twists and turns around a dead man's identity, to a strong-willed main character. The only flaw that bothered me was the fact that Martha Gunn is the Empress of All Characters-- all the rest paled into insignificance around her-- with the amusing exception of her daughter Sukey and Agnetha the Swedish au pair who had an obsession with the rock group ABBA.
After such a strong start to a series, I'm looking forward to reading more of Martha Gunn's investigations.